(navigation image)
Home American Libraries | Canadian Libraries | Universal Library | Community Texts | Project Gutenberg | Children's Library | Biodiversity Heritage Library | Additional Collections
Search: Advanced Search
Anonymous User (login or join us)
Upload
See other formats

Full text of "Ancient Classic Texts before 400 B.C."

380 BC 
LACHES OR COURAGE 
by Plato 
translated by Benjamin Jowett 
PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE: LYSIMACHUS, son of Aristides; MELESIAS, son 
of Thucydides; THEIR SONS; NICIAS; LACHES; SOCRATES. 

Lys . You have seen the exhibition of the man fighting in armour, 
Nicias and Laches, but we did not tell you at the time the reason 
why my friend Melesias and I asked you to go with us and see him. I 
think that we may as well confess what this was, for we certainly 
ought not to have any reserve with you. The reason was, that we were 
intending to ask your advice. Some laugh at the very notion of 
advising others, and when they are asked will not say what they think. 
They guess at the wishes of the person who asks them, and answer 
according to his, and not according to their own, opinion. But as we 
know that you are good judges, and will say exactly what you think, we 
have taken you into our counsels. The matter about which I am making 
all this preface is as follows: Melesias and I have two sons; that 
is his son, and he is named Thucydides, after his grandfather; and 
this is mine, who is also called after his grandfather, Aristides. 
Now, we are resolved to take the greatest care of the youths, and 
not to let them run about as they like, which is too often the way 
with the young, when they are no longer children, but to begin at once 
and do the utmost that we can for them. And knowing you to have sons 
of your own, we thought that you were most likely to have attended 
to their training and improvement, and, if perchance you have not 
attended to them, we may remind you that you ought to have done so, 
and would invite you to assist us in the fulfillment of a common duty. 
I will tell you, Nicias and Laches, even at the risk of being tedious, 
how we came to think of this. Melesias and I live together, and our 
sons live with us; and now, as I was saying at first, we are going 
to confess to you. Both of us often talk to the lads about the many 
noble deeds which our own fathers did in war and peace-in the 
management of the allies, and in the administration of the city; but 
neither of us has any deeds of his own which he can show. The truth is 
that we are ashamed of this contrast being seen by them, and we 
blame our fathers for letting us be spoiled in the days of our 
youth, while they were occupied with the concerns of others; and we 
urge all this upon the lads, pointing out to them that they will not 
grow up to honour if they are rebellious and take no pains about 
themselves; but that if they take pains they may, perhaps, become 
worthy of the names which they bear. They, on their part, promise to 
comply with our wishes; and our care is to discover what studies or 
pursuits are likely to be most improving to them. Some one commended 
to us the art of fighting in armour, which he thought an excellent 
accomplishment for a young man to learn; and he praised the man 
whose exhibition you have seen, and told us to go and see him. And 
we determined that we would go, and get you to accompany us; and we 
were intending at the same time, if you did not object, to take 
counsel with you about the education of our sons. That is the matter 
which we wanted to talk over with you; and we hope that you will 
give us your opinion about this art of fighting in armour, and about 
any other studies or pursuits which may or may not be desirable for 
a young man to learn. Please to say whether you agree to our proposal. 

Nic. As far as I am concerned, Lysimachus and Melesias, I applaud 
your purpose, and will gladly assist you; and I believe that you, 
Laches, will be equally glad. 

La. Certainly, Nicias; and I quite approve of the remark which 
Lysimachus made about his own father and the father of Melesias, and 
which is applicable, not only to them, but to us, and to every one who 
is occupied with public affairs. As he says, such persons are too 
apt to be negligent and careless of their own children and their 
private concerns. There is much truth in that remark of yours, 



Lysimachus. But why, instead of consulting us, do you not consult 
our friend Socrates about the education of the youths? He is of the 
same deme with you, and is always passing his time in places where the 
youth have any noble study or pursuit, such as you are enquiring 
after . 

Lys . Why, Laches, has Socrates ever attended to matters of this 
sort? 

La. Certainly, Lysimachus. 

Nic. That I have the means of knowing as well as Laches; for quite 
lately he supplied me with a teacher of music for my sons, -Damon, 
the disciple of Agathocles, who is a most accomplished man in every 
way, as well as a musician, and a companion of inestimable value for 
young men at their age. 

Lys. Those who have reached my time of life, Socrates and Nicias and 
Laches, fall out of acquaintance with the young, because they are 
generally detained at home by old age; but you, son of Sophroniscus, 
should let your fellow demesman have the benefits of any advice 
which you are able to give. Moreover I have a claim upon you as an old 
friend of your father; for I and he were always companions and 
friends, and to the hour of his death there never was a difference 
between us; and now it comes back to me, at the mention of your 
name, that I have heard these lads talking to one another at home, and 
often speaking of Socrates in terms of the highest praise; but I 
have never thought to ask them whether the son of Sophroniscus was the 
person whom they meant. Tell me, my boys, whether this is the Socrates 
of whom you have often spoken? 

Son. Certainly, father, this is he. 

Lys. I am delighted to hear, Socrates, that you maintain the name of 
your father, who was a most excellent man; and I further rejoice at 
the prospect of our family ties being renewed. 

La. Indeed, Lysimachus, you ought not to give him up; for I can 
assure you that I have seen him maintaining, not only his father's, 
but also his country's name. He was my companion in the retreat from 
Delium, and I can tell you that if others had only been like him, 
the honour of our country would have been upheld, and the great defeat 
would never have occurred. 

Lys. That is very high praise which is accorded to you, Socrates, by 
faithful witnesses and for actions like those which they praise. Let 
me tell you the pleasure which I feel in hearing of your fame; and I 
hope that you will regard me as one of your warmest friends. You ought 
to have visited us long ago, and made yourself at home with us; but 
now, from this day forward, as we have at last found one another 
out, do as I say-come and make acquaintance with me, and with these 
young men, that I may continue your friend, as I was your father's. 
I shall expect you to do so, and shall venture at some future time 
to remind you of your duty. But what say you of the matter of which we 
were beginning to speak-the art of fighting in armour? Is that a 
practice in which the lads may be advantageously instructed? 

Soc. I will endeavour to advise you, Lysimachus, as far as I can 
in this matter, and also in every way will comply with your wishes; 
but as I am younger and not so experienced, I think that I ought 
certainly to hear first what my elders have to say, and to learn of 
them, and if I have anything to add, then I may venture to give my 
opinion to them as well as to you. Suppose, Nicias, that one or 
other of you begin. 

Nic. I have no objection, Socrates; and my opinion is that the 
acquirement of this art is in many ways useful to young men. It is 
an advantage to them that among the favourite amusements of their 
leisure hours they should have one which tends to improve and not to 
injure their bodily health. No gymnastics could be better or harder 
exercise; and this, and the art of riding, are of all arts most 
befitting to a freeman; for they only who are thus trained in the 
use of arms are the athletes of our military profession, trained in 
that on which the conflict turns. Moreover in actual battle, when 



you have to fight in a line with a number of others, such an 
acquirement will be of some use, and will be of the greatest 
whenever the ranks are broken and you have to fight singly, either 
in pursuit, when you are attacking some one who is defending 
himself, or in flight, when you have to defend yourself against an 
assailant. Certainly he who possessed the art could not meet with 
any harm at the hands of a single person, or perhaps of several; and 
in any case he would have a great advantage. Further, this sort of 
skill inclines a man to the love of other noble lessons; for every man 
who has learned how to fight in armour will desire to learn the proper 
arrangement of an army, which is the sequel of the lesson: and when he 
has learned this, and his ambition is once fired, he will go on to 
learn the complete art of the general. There is no difficulty in 
seeing that the knowledge and practice of other military arts will 
be honourable and valuable to a man; and this lesson may be the 
beginning of them. Let me add a further advantage, which is by no 
means a slight one, -that this science will make any man a great deal 
more valiant and self-possessed in the field. And I will not disdain 
to mention, what by some may he thought to be a small matter; -he 
will make a better appearance at the right time; that is to say, at 
the time when his appearance will strike terror into his enemies. My 
opinion then, Lysimachus, is, as I say, that the youths should be 
instructed in this art, and for the reasons which I have given. But 
Laches may take a different view; and I shall be very glad to hear 
what he has to say. 

La. I should not like to maintain, Nicias, that any kind of 
knowledge is not to be learned; for all knowledge appears to be a 
good: and if, as Nicias and as the teachers of the art affirm, this 
use of arms is really a species of knowledge, then it ought to be 
learned; but if not, and if those who profess to teach it are 
deceivers only; or if it be knowledge, but not of a valuable sort, 
then what is the use of learning it? I say this, because I think 
that if it had been really valuable, the Lacedaemonians, whose whole 
life is passed in finding out and practising the arts which give 
them an advantage over other nations in war, would have discovered 
this one. And even if they had not, still these professors of the 
art would certainly not have failed to discover that of all the 
Hellenes the Lacedaemonians have the greatest interest in such 
matters, and that a master of the art who was honoured among them 
would be sure to make his fortune among other nations, just as a 
tragic poet would who is honoured among ourselves; which is the reason 
why he who fancies that he can write a tragedy does not go about 
itinerating in the neighbouring states, but rushes straight, and 
exhibits at Athens; and this is natural. Whereas I perceive that these 
fighters in armour regard Lacedaemon as a sacred inviolable territory, 
which they do not touch with the point of their foot; but they make 
a circuit of the neighbouring states, and would rather exhibit to 
any others than to the Spartans; and particularly to those who would 
themselves acknowledge that they are by no means first-rate in the 
arts of war. Further, Lysimachus, I have encountered a good many of 
these gentlemen in actual service, and have taken their measure, which 
I can give you at once; for none of these masters of fence have ever 
been distinguished in war, -there has been a sort of fatality about 
them; while in all other arts the men of note have been always those 
who have practised the art, they appear to be a most unfortunate 
exception. For example, this very Stesilaus, whom you and I have 
just witnessed exhibiting in all that crowd and making such great 
professions of his powers, I have seen at another time making, in 
sober truth, an involuntary exhibition of himself, which was a far 
better spectacle. He was a marine on board a ship which struck a 
transport vessel, and was armed with a weapon, half spear half scythe; 
the singularity of this weapon was worthy of the singularity of the 
man. To make a long story short, I will only tell you what happened to 
this notable invention of the scythe-spear. He was fighting, and the 



scythe was caught in the rigging of the other ship, and stuck fast; 
and he tugged, but was unable to get his weapon free. The two ships 
were passing one another. He first ran along his own ship holding on 
to the spear; but as the other ship passed by and drew him after as he 
was holding on, he let the spear slip through his hand until he 
retained only the end of the handle. The people in the transport 
clapped their hands, and laughed at his ridiculous figure; and when 
some one threw a stone, which fell on the deck at his feet, and he 
quitted of the scythe-spear, the crew of his own trireme also burst 
out laughing; they could not refrain when they beheld the weapon 
waving in the air, suspended from the transport. Now I do not deny 
that there may be something in such an art, as Nicias asserts, but I 
tell you my experience; and, as I said at first, whether this be an 
art of which the advantage is so slight, or not an art at all, but 
only an imposition, in either case such an acquirement is not worth 
having. For my opinion is, that if the professor of this art be a 
coward, he will be likely to become rash, and his character will be 
only more notorious; or if he be brave, and fail ever so little, other 
men will be on the watch, and he will be greatly traduced; for there 
is a jealousy of such pretenders; and unless a man be preeminent in 
valour, he cannot help being ridiculous, if he says that he has this 
sort of skill. Such is my judgment, Lysimachus, of the desirableness 
of this art; but, as I said at first, ask Socrates, and do not let him 
go until he has given you his opinion of the matter. 

Lys . I am going to ask this favour of you, Socrates; as is the 
more necessary because the two councillors disagree, and some one is 
in a manner still needed who will decide between them. Had they 
agreed, no arbiter would have been required. But as Laches has voted 
one way and Nicias another, I should like to hear with which of our 
two friends you agree. 

Soc. What, Lysimachus, are you going to accept the opinion of the 
ma j ority? 

Lys. Why, yes, Socrates; what else am I to do? 

Soc. And would you do so too, Melesias? If you were deliberating 
about the gymnastic training of your son, would you follow the 
advice of the majority of us, or the opinion of the one who had been 
trained and exercised under a skilful master? 

Mel. The latter, Socrates; as would surely be reasonable. 

Soc. His one vote would be worth more than the vote of all us four? 

Mel. Certainly. 

Soc. And for this reason, as I imagine, -because a good decision is 
based on knowledge and not on numbers? 

Mel . To be sure . 

Soc. Must we not then first of all ask, whether there is any one 
of us who has knowledge of that about which we are deliberating? If 
there is, let us take his advice, though he be one only, and not 
mind the rest; if there is not, let us seek further counsel. Is this a 
slight matter about which you and Lysimachus are deliberating? Are you 
not risking the greatest of your possessions? For children are your 
riches; and upon their turning out well or ill depends the whole order 
of their father's house. 

Mel. That is true. 

Soc. Great care, then, is required in this matter? 

Mel. Certainly. 

Soc. Suppose, as I was just now saying, that we were considering, or 
wanting to consider, who was the best trainer. Should we not select 
him who knew and had practised the art, and had the best teachers? 

Mel. I think that we should. 

Soc. But would there not arise a prior question about the nature 
of the art of which we want to find the masters? 

Mel. I do not understand. 

Soc. Let me try to make my meaning plainer then. I do not think that 
we have as yet decided what that is about which we are consulting, 
when we ask which of us is or is not skilled in the art, and has or 



has not had a teacher of the art. 

Nic. Why, Socrates, is not the question whether young men ought or 
ought not to learn the art of fighting in armour? 

Soc. Yes, Nicias; but there is also a prior question, which I may 
illustrate in this way: When a person considers about applying a 
medicine to the eyes, would you say that he is consulting about the 
medicine or about the eyes? 

Nic. About the eyes. 

Soc. And when he considers whether he shall set a bridle on a 
horse and at what time, he is thinking of the horse and not of the 
bridle? 

Nic. True. 

Soc. And in a word, when he considers anything for the sake of 
another thing, he thinks of the end and not of the means? 

Nic. Certainly. 

Soc. And when you call in an adviser, you should see whether he 
too is skilful in the accomplishment of the end which you have in 
view? 

Nic. Most true. 

Soc. And at present we have in view some knowledge, of which the end 
is the soul of youth? 

Nic. Yes. 

Soc. And we are enquiring, Which of us is skilful or successful in 
the treatment of the soul, and which of us has had good teachers? 

La. Well but, Socrates; did you never observe that some persons, who 
have had no teachers, are more skilful than those who have, in some 
things? 

Soc. Yes, Laches, I have observed that; but you would not be very 
willing to trust them if they only professed to be masters of their 
art, unless they could show some proof of their skill or excellence in 
one or more works . 

La. That is true. 

Soc. And therefore, Laches and Nicias, as Lysimachus and Melesias, 
in their anxiety to improve the minds of their sons, have asked our 
advice about them, we too should tell them who our teachers were, if 
we say that we have had any, and prove them to be in the first place 
men of merit and experienced trainers of the minds of youth and also 
to have been really our teachers. Or if any of us says that he has 
no teacher, but that he has works of his own to show; then he should 
point out to them what Athenians or strangers, bond or free, he is 
generally acknowledged to have improved. But if he can show neither 
teachers nor works, then he should tell them to look out for others; 
and not run the risk of spoiling the children of friends, and 
thereby incurring the most formidable accusation which can be 
brought against any one by those nearest to him. As for myself, 
Lysimachus and Melesias, I am the first to confess that I have never 
had a teacher of the art of virtue; although I have always from my 
earliest youth desired to have one. But I am too poor to give money to 
the Sophists, who are the only professors of moral improvement; and to 
this day I have never been able to discover the art myself, though I 
should not be surprised if Nicias or Laches may have discovered or 
learned it; for they are far wealthier than I am, and may therefore 
have learnt of others. And they are older too; so that they have had 
more time to make the discovery. And I really believe that they are 
able to educate a man; for unless they had been confident in their own 
knowledge, they would never have spoken thus decidedly of the pursuits 
which are advantageous or hurtful to a young man. I repose 
confidence in both of them; but I am surprised to find that they 
differ from one another. And therefore, Lysimachus, as Laches 
suggested that you should detain me, and not let me go until I 
answered, I in turn earnestly beseech and advise you to detain 
Laches and Nicias, and question them. I would have you say to them: 
Socrates avers that he has no knowledge of the matter-he is unable 
to decide which of you speaks truly; neither discoverer nor student is 



he of anything of the kind. But you, Laches and Nicias, should each of 
you tell us who is the most skilful educator whom you have ever known; 
and whether you invented the art yourselves, or learned of another; 
and if you learned, who were your respective teachers, and who were 
their brothers in the art; and then, if you are too much occupied in 
politics to teach us yourselves, let us go to them, and present them 
with gifts, or make interest with them, or both, in the hope that they 
may be induced to take charge of our children and of yours; and then 
they will not grow up inferior, and disgrace their ancestors. But if 
you are yourselves original discoverers in that field, give us some 
proof of your skill. Who are they who, having been inferior persons, 
have become under your care good and noble? For if this is your 
first attempt at education, there is a danger that you may be trying 
the experiment, not on the "vile corpus" of a Carian slave, but on 
your own sons, or the sons of your friend, and, as the proverb says, 
"break the large vessel in learning to make pots." Tell us then, 
what qualities you claim or do not claim. Make them tell you that, 
Lysimachus, and do not let them off. 

Lys . I very much approve of the words of Socrates, my friends; but 
you, Nicias and Laches, must determine whether you will be questioned, 
and give an explanation about matters of this sort. Assuredly, I and 
Melesias would be greatly pleased to hear you answer the questions 
which Socrates asks, if you will: for I began by saying that we took 
you into our counsels because we thought that you would have 
attended to the subject, especially as you have children who, like our 
own, are nearly of an age to be educated. Well, then, if you have no 
objection, suppose that you take Socrates into partnership; and do you 
and he ask and answer one another's questions: for, as he has well 
said, we are deliberating about the most important of our concerns. 
I hope that you will see fit to comply with our request. 

Nic. I see very clearly, Lysimachus, that you have only known 
Socrates' father, and have no acquaintance with Socrates himself: at 
least, you can only have known him when he was a child, and may have 
met him among his fellow wardsmen, in company with his father, at a 
sacrifice, or at some other gathering. You clearly show that you 
have never known him since he arrived at manhood. 

Lys. Why do you say that, Nicias? 

Nic. Because you seem not to be aware that any one who has an 
intellectual affinity to Socrates and enters into conversation with 
him is liable to be drawn into an argument; and whatever subject he 
may start, he will be continually carried round and round by him, 
until at last he finds that he has to give an account both of his 
present and past life; and when he is once entangled, Socrates will 
not let him go until he has completely and thoroughly sifted him. 
Now I am used to his ways; and I know that he will certainly do as I 
say, and also that I myself shall be the sufferer; for I am fond of 
his conversation, Lysimachus. And I think that there is no harm in 
being reminded of any wrong thing which we are, or have been, doing: 
he who does not fly from reproof will be sure to take more heed of his 
after-life; as Solon says, he will wish and desire to be learning so 
long as he lives, and will not think that old age of itself brings 
wisdom. To me, to be cross examined by Socrates is neither unusual nor 
unpleasant; indeed, I knew all along that where Socrates was, the 
argument would soon pass from our sons to ourselves; and therefore, 
I say that for my part, I am quite willing to discourse with 
Socrates in his own manner; but you had better ask our friend Laches 
what his feeling may be. 

La. I have but one feeling, Nicias, or (shall I say?) two 
feelings, about discussions. Some would think that I am a lover, and 
to others I may seem to be a hater of discourse; for when I hear a man 
discoursing of virtue, or of any sort of wisdom, who is a true man and 
worthy of his theme, I am delighted beyond measure: and I compare 
the man and his words, and note the harmony and correspondence of 
them. And such an one I deem to be the true musician, attuned to a 



fairer harmony than that of the lyre, or any pleasant instrument of 
music; for truly he has in his own life a harmony of words and deeds 
arranged, not in the Ionian, or in the Phrygian mode, nor yet in the 
Lydian, but in the true Hellenic mode, which is the Dorian, and no 
other. Such an one makes me merry with the sound of his voice; and 
when I hear him I am thought to be a lover of discourse; so eager am I 
in drinking in his words. But a man whose actions do not agree with 
his words is an annoyance to me; and the better he speaks the more I 
hate him, and then I seem to be a hater of discourse. As to 
Socrates, I have no knowledge of his words, but of old, as would seem, 
I have had experience of his deeds; and his deeds show that free and 
noble sentiments are natural to him. And if his words accord, then I 
am of one mind with him, and shall be delighted to be interrogated 
by a man such as he is, and shall not be annoyed at having to learn of 
him: for I too agree with Solon, "that I would fain grow old, learning 
many things." But I must be allowed to add "of the good only." 
Socrates must be willing to allow that he is a good teacher, or I 
shall be a dull and uncongenial pupil: but that the teacher is 
younger, or not as yet in repute-anything of that sort is of no 
account with me. And therefore, Socrates, I give you notice that you 
may teach and confute me as much as ever you like, and also learn of 
me anything which I know. So high is the opinion which I have 
entertained of you ever since the day on which you were my companion 
in danger, and gave a proof of your valour such as only the man of 
merit can give. Therefore, say whatever you like, and do not mind 
about the difference of our ages. 

Soc. I cannot say that either of you show any reluctance to take 
counsel and advise with me. 

Lys . But this is our proper business; and yours as well as ours, for 
I reckon you as one of us. Please then to take my place, and find 
out from Nicias and Laches what we want to know, for the sake of the 
youths, and talk and consult with them: for I am old, and my memory is 
bad; and I do not remember the questions which I am going to ask, or 
the answers to them; and if there is any interruption I am quite lost. 
I will therefore beg of you to carry on the proposed discussion by 
yourselves; and I will listen, and Melesias and I will act upon your 
conclusions . 

Soc. Let us, Nicias and Laches, comply with the request of 
Lysimachus and Melesias. There will be no harm in asking ourselves the 
question which was first proposed to us: "Who have been our own 
instructors in this sort of training, and whom have we made better?" 
But the other mode of carrying on the enquiry will bring us equally to 
the same point, and will be more like proceeding from first 
principles. For if we knew that the addition of something would 
improve some other thing, and were able to make the addition, then, 
clearly, we must know how that about which we are advising may be best 
and most easily attained. Perhaps you do not understand what I mean. 
Then let me make my meaning plainer in this way. Suppose we knew 
that the addition of sight makes better the eyes which possess this 
gift, and also were able to impart sight to the eyes, then, clearly, 
we should know the nature of sight, and should be able to advise how 
this gift of sight may be best and most easily attained; but if we 
knew neither what sight is, nor what hearing is, we should not be very 
good medical advisers about the eyes or the ears, or about the best 
mode of giving sight and hearing to them. 

La. That is true, Socrates. 

Soc. And are not our two friends, Laches, at this very moment 
inviting us to consider in what way the gift of virtue may be imparted 
to their sons for the improvement of their minds? 

La. Very true. 

Soc. Then must we not first know the nature of virtue? For how can 
we advise any one about the best mode of attaining something of 
which we are wholly ignorant? 

La. I do not think that we can, Socrates. 



low 



a 



Soc. Then, Laches, we may presume that we know the nature of virtue? 

La. Yes. 

Soc. And that which we know we must surely be able to tell? 

La. Certainly. 

Soc. I would not have us begin, my friend, with enquiring about 
the whole of virtue; for that may be more than we can accomplish; 
let us first consider whether we have a sufficient knowledge of a 
part; the enquiry will thus probably be made easier to us. 

La. Let us do as you say, Socrates. 

Soc. Then which of the parts of virtue shall we select? Must we 
not select that to which the art of fighting in armour is supposed 
to conduce? And is not that generally thought to be courage? 

La. Yes, certainly. 

Soc. Then, Laches, suppose that we first set about determining the 
nature of courage, and in the second place proceed to enquire hov 
the young men may attain this quality by the help of studies and 
pursuits. Tell me, if you can, what is courage. 

La. Indeed, Socrates, I see no difficulty in answering; he is s 
man of courage who does not run away, but remains at his post and 
fights against the enemy; there can be no mistake about that. 

Soc. Very good, Laches; and yet I fear that I did not express myself 
clearly; and therefore you have answered not the question which I 
intended to ask, but another. 

La. What do you mean, Socrates? 

Soc. I will endeavour to explain; you would call a man courageous 
who remains at his post, and fights with the enemy? 

La. Certainly I should. 

Soc. And so should I; but what would you say of another man, who 
fights flying, instead of remaining? 

La. How flying? 

Soc. Why, as the Scythians are said to fight, flying as well as 
pursuing; and as Homer says in praise of the horses of Aeneas, that 
they knew "how to pursue, and fly quickly hither and thither"; and 
he passes an encomium on Aeneas himself, as having a knowledge of fear 
or flight, and calls him "an author of fear or flight." 

La. Yes, Socrates, and there Homer is right: for he was speaking 
of chariots, as you were speaking of the Scythian cavalry, who have 
that way of fighting; but the heavy-armed Greek fights, as I say, 
remaining in his rank. 

Soc. And yet, Laches, you must except the Lacedaemonians at Plataea, 
who, when they came upon the light shields of the Persians, are said 
not to have been willing to stand and fight, and to have fled; but 
when the ranks of the Persians were broken, they turned upon them like 
cavalry, and won the battle of Plataea. 

La. That is true. 

Soc. That was my meaning when I said that I was to blame in having 
put my question badly, and that this was the reason of your 
answering badly. For I meant to ask you not only about the courage 
of heavy-armed soldiers, but about the courage of cavalry and every 
other style of soldier; and not only who are courageous in war, but 
who are courageous in perils by sea, and who in disease, or in 
poverty, or again in politics, are courageous; and not only who are 
courageous against pain or fear, but mighty to contend against desires 
and pleasures, either fixed in their rank or turning upon their enemy. 
There is this sort of courage-is there not, Laches? 

La. Certainly, Socrates. 

Soc. And all these are courageous, but some have courage in 
pleasures, and some in pains: some in desires, and some in fears, 
and some are cowards under the same conditions, as I should imagine. 

La. Very true. 

Soc. Now I was asking about courage and cowardice in general. And 
I will begin with courage, and once more ask, What is that common 
quality, which is the same in all these cases, and which is called 
courage? Do you now understand what I mean? 



La. Not over well. 

Soc. I mean this: As I might ask what is that quality which is 
called quickness, and which is found in running, in playing the 
lyre, in speaking, in learning, and in many other similar actions, 
or rather which we possess in nearly every action that is worth 
mentioning of arms, legs, mouth, voice, mind; -would you not apply 
the term quickness to all of them? 

La. Quite true. 

Soc. And suppose I were to be asked by some one: What is that common 
quality, Socrates, which, in all these uses of the word, you call 
quickness? I should say the quality which accomplishes much in a 
little time-whether in running, speaking, or in any other sort of 
action . 

La. You would be quite correct. 

Soc. And now, Laches, do you try and tell me in like manner, What is 
that common quality which is called courage, and which includes all 
the various uses of the term when applied both to pleasure and pain, 
and in all the cases to which I was just now referring? 

La. I should say that courage is a sort of endurance of the soul, if 
I am to speak of the universal nature which pervades them all. 

Soc. But that is what we must do if we are to answer the question. 
And yet I cannot say that every kind of endurance is, in my opinion, 
to be deemed courage. Hear my reason: I am sure, Laches, that you 
would consider courage to be a very noble quality. 

La. Most noble, certainly. 

Soc. And you would say that a wise endurance is also good and noble? 

La. Very noble. 

Soc. But what would you say of a foolish endurance? Is not that, 
on the other hand, to be regarded as evil and hurtful? 

La. True. 

Soc. And is anything noble which is evil and hurtful? 

La. I ought not to say that, Socrates. 

Soc. Then you would not admit that sort of endurance to be 
courage-for it is not noble, but courage is noble? 

La. You are right. 

Soc. Then, according to you, only the wise endurance is courage? 

La. True. 

Soc. But as to the epithet "wise, "-wise in what? In all things small 
as well as great? For example, if a man shows the quality of endurance 
in spending his money wisely, knowing that by spending he will acquire 
more in the end, do you call him courageous? 

La. Assuredly not. 

Soc. Or, for example, if a man is a physician, and his son, or 
some patient of his, has inflammation of the lungs, and begs that he 
may be allowed to eat or drink something, and the other is firm and 
refuses; is that courage? 

La. No; that is not courage at all, any more than the last. 

Soc. Again, take the case of one who endures in war, and is 
willing to fight, and wisely calculates and knows that others will 
help him, and that there will be fewer and inferior men against him 
than there are with him; and suppose that he has also advantages of 
position; would you say of such a one who endures with all this wisdom 
and preparation, that he, or some man in the opposing army who is in 
the opposite circumstances to these and yet endures and remains at his 
post, is the braver? 

La. I should say that the latter, Socrates, was the braver. 

Soc. But, surely, this is a foolish endurance in comparison with the 
other? 

La. That is true. 

Soc. Then you would say that he who in an engagement of cavalry 
endures, having the knowledge of horsemanship, is not so courageous as 
he who endures, having no such knowledge? 

La. So I should say. 

Soc. And he who endures, having a knowledge of the use of the sling, 



or the bow, or of any other art, is not so courageous as he who 
endures, not having such a knowledge? 

La. True. 

Soc. And he who descends into a well, and dives, and holds out in 
this or any similar action, having no knowledge of diving, or the 
like, is, as you would say, more courageous than those who have this 
knowledge? 

La. Why, Socrates, what else can a man say? 

Soc. Nothing, if that be what he thinks. 

La. But that is what I do think. 

Soc. And yet men who thus run risks and endure are foolish, 
Laches, in comparison of those who do the same things, having the 
skill to do them. 

La. That is true. 

Soc. But foolish boldness and endurance appeared before to be base 
and hurtful to us. 

La. Quite true. 

Soc. Whereas courage was acknowledged to be a noble quality. 

La. True. 

Soc. And now on the contrary we are saying that the foolish 
endurance, which was before held in dishonour, is courage. 

La. Very true. 

Soc. And are we right in saying so? 

La. Indeed, Socrates, I am sure that we are not right. 

Soc. Then according to your statement, you and I, Laches, are not 
attuned to the Dorian mode, which is a harmony of words and deeds; for 
our deeds are not in accordance with our words . Any one would say that 
we had courage who saw us in action, but not, I imagine, he who 
heard us talking about courage just now. 

La. That is most true. 

Soc. And is this condition of ours satisfactory? 

La. Quite the reverse. 

Soc. Suppose, however, that we admit the principle of which we are 
speaking to a certain extent. 

La. To what extent and what principle do you mean? 

Soc. The principle of endurance. We too must endure and persevere in 
the enquiry, and then courage will not laugh at our faintheartedness 
in searching for courage; which after all may, very likely, be 
endurance . 

La. I am ready to go on, Socrates; and yet I am unused to 
investigations of this sort. But the spirit of controversy has been 
aroused in me by what has been said; and I am really grieved at 
being thus unable to-express my meaning. For I fancy that I do know 
the nature of courage; but, somehow or other, she has slipped away 
from me, and I cannot get hold of her and tell her nature. 

Soc. But, my dear friend, should not the good sportsman follow the 
track, and not be lazy? 

La. Certainly, he should. 

Soc. And shall we invite Nicias to join us? he may be better at 
the sport than we are. What do you say? 

La. I should like that. 

Soc. Come then, Nicias, and do what you can to help your friends, 
who are tossing on the waves of argument, and at the last gasp: you 
see our extremity, and may save us and also settle your own opinion, 
if you will tell us what you think about courage. 

Nic. I have been thinking, Socrates, that you and Laches are not 
defining courage in the right way; for you have forgotten an excellent 
saying which I have heard from your own lips. 

Soc. What is it, Nicias? 

Nic. I have often heard you say that "Every man is good in that in 
which he is wise, and bad in that in which he is unwise." 

Soc. That is certainly true, Nicias. 

Nic. And therefore if the brave man is good, he is also wise. 

Soc. Do you hear him, Laches? 



La. Yes, I hear him, but I do not very well understand him. 

Soc. I think that I understand him; and he appears to me to mean 
that courage is a sort of wisdom. 

La. What can he possibly mean, Socrates? 

Soc. That is a question which you must ask of himself. 

La. Yes. 

Soc. Tell him then, Nicias, what you mean by this wisdom; for you 
surely do not mean the wisdom which plays the flute? 

Nic. Certainly not. 

Soc. Nor the wisdom which plays the lyre? 

Nic. No. 

Soc. But what is this knowledge then, and of what? 

La. I think that you put the question to him very well, Socrates; 
and I would like him to say what is the nature of this knowledge or 
wisdom . 

Nic. I mean to say, Laches, that courage is the knowledge of that 
which inspires fear or confidence in war, or in anything. 

La. How strangely he is talking, Socrates. 

Soc. Why do you say so, Laches? 

La. Why, surely courage is one thing, and wisdom another. 

Soc. That is just what Nicias denies. 

La. Yes, that is what he denies; but he is so. 

Soc. Suppose that we instruct instead of abusing him? 

Nic. Laches does not want to instruct me, Socrates; but having 
been proved to be talking nonsense himself, he wants to prove that I 
have been doing the same. 

La. Very true, Nicias; and you are talking nonsense, as I shall 
endeavour to show. Let me ask you a question: Do not physicians know 
the dangers of disease? or do the courageous know them? or are the 
physicians the same as the courageous? 

Nic. Not at all. 

La. No more than the husbandmen who know the dangers of husbandry, 
or than other craftsmen, who have a knowledge of that which inspires 
them with fear or confidence in their own arts, and yet they are not 
courageous a whit the more for that. 

Soc. What is Laches saying, Nicias? He appears to be saying 
something of importance. 

Nic. Yes, he is saying something, but it is not true. 

Soc. How so? 

Nic. Why, because he does not see that the physician's knowledge 
only extends to the nature of health and disease: he can tell the sick 
man no more than this. Do you imagine, Laches, that the physician 
knows whether health or disease is the more terrible to a man? Had not 
many a man better never get up from a sick bed? I should like to 
know whether you think that life is always better than death. May 
not death often be the better of the two? 

La. Yes certainly so in my opinion. 

Nic. And do you think that the same things are terrible to those who 
had better die, and to those who had better live? 

La. Certainly not. 

Nic. And do you suppose that the physician or any other artist knows 
this, or any one indeed, except he who is skilled in the grounds of 
fear and hope? And him I call the courageous. 

Soc. Do you understand his meaning, Laches? 

La. Yes; I suppose that, in his way of speaking, the soothsayers are 
courageous. For who but one of them can know to whom to die or to live 
is better? And yet Nicias, would you allow that you are yourself a 
soothsayer, or are you neither a soothsayer nor courageous? 

Nic. What! do you mean to say that the soothsayer ought to know 
the grounds of hope or fear? 

La. Indeed I do: who but he? 

Nic. Much rather I should say he of whom I speak; for the soothsayer 
ought to know only the signs of things that are about to come to pass, 
whether death or disease, or loss of property, or victory, or defeat 



in war, or in any sort of contest; but to whom the suffering or not 
suffering of these things will be for the best, can no more be decided 
by the soothsayer than by one who is no soothsayer. 

La. I cannot understand what Nicias would be at, Socrates; for he 
represents the courageous man as neither a soothsayer, nor a 
physician, nor in any other character, unless he means to say that 
he is a god. My opinion is that he does not like honestly to confess 
that he is talking nonsense, but that he shuffles up and down in order 
to conceal the difficulty into which he has got himself. You and I, 
Socrates, might have practised a similar shuffle just now, if we had 
only wanted to avoid the appearance of inconsistency. And if we had 
been arguing in a court of law there might have been reason in so 
doing; but why should a man deck himself out with vain words at a 
meeting of friends such as this? 

Soc. I quite agree with you, Laches, that he should not. But perhaps 
Nicias is serious, and not merely talking for the sake of talking. Let 
us ask him just to explain what he means, and if he has reason on 
his side we will agree with him; if not, we will instruct him. 

La. Do you, Socrates, if you like, ask him: I think that I have 
asked enough. 

Soc. I do not see why I should not; and my question will do for both 
of us . 

La. Very good. 

Soc. Then tell me, Nicias, or rather tell us, for Laches and I are 
partners in the argument: Do you mean to affirm that courage is the 
knowledge of the grounds of hope and fear? 

Nic. I do. 

Soc. And not every man has this knowledge; the physician and the 
soothsayer have it not; and they will not be courageous unless they 
acquire it-that is what you were saying? 

Nic . I was . 

Soc. Then this is certainly not a thing which every pig would 
know, as the proverb says, and therefore he could not be courageous. 

Nic. I think not. 

Soc. Clearly not, Nicias; not even such a big pig as the Crommyonian 
sow would be called by you courageous. And this I say not as a joke, 
but because I think that he who assents to your doctrine, that courage 
is the knowledge of the grounds of fear and hope, cannot allow that 
any wild beast is courageous, unless he admits that a lion, or a 
leopard, or perhaps a boar, or any other animal, has such a degree 
of wisdom that he knows things which but a few human beings ever 
know by reason of their difficulty. He who takes your view of 
courage must affirm that a lion, and a stag, and a bull, and a monkey, 
have equally little pretensions to courage. 

La. Capital, Socrates; by the gods, that is truly good. And I 
hope, Nicias, that you will tell us whether these animals, which we 
all admit to be courageous, are really wiser than mankind; or 
whether you will have the boldness, in the face of universal 
opinion, to deny their courage. 

Nic. Why, Laches, I do not call animals or any other things which 
have no fear of dangers, because they are ignorant of them, 
courageous, but only fearless and senseless. Do you imagine that I 
should call little children courageous, which fear no dangers 
because they know none? There is a difference, to my way of 
thinking, between fearlessness and courage. I am of opinion that 
thoughtful courage is a quality possessed by very few, but that 
rashness and boldness, and fearlessness, which has no forethought, are 
very common qualities possessed by many men, many women, many 
children, many animals. And you, and men in general, call by the 
term "courageous" actions which I call rash; -my courageous actions are 
wise actions . 

La. Behold, Socrates, how admirably, as he thinks, he dresses 
himself out in words, while seeking to deprive of the honour of 
courage those whom all the world acknowledges to be courageous. 



Nic. Not so, Laches, but do not be alarmed; for I am quite willing 
to say of you and also of Lamachus, and of many other Athenians, 
that you are courageous and therefore wise. 

La. I could answer that; but I would not have you cast in my teeth 
that I am a haughty Aexonian. 

Soc. Do not answer him, Laches; I rather fancy that you are not 
aware of the source from which his wisdom is derived. He has got all 
this from my friend Damon, and Damon is always with Prodicus, who, 
of all the Sophists, is considered to be the best puller to pieces 
of words of this sort. 

La. Yes, Socrates; and the examination of such niceties is a much 
more suitable employment for a Sophist than for a great statesman whom 
the city chooses to preside over her. 

Soc. Yes, my sweet friend, but a great statesman is likely to have a 
great intelligence. And I think that the view which is implied in 
Nicias' definition of courage is worthy of examination. 

La. Then examine for yourself, Socrates. 

Soc. That is what I am going to do, my dear friend. Do not, however, 
suppose I shall let you out of the partnership; for I shall expect you 
to apply your mind, and join with me in the consideration of the 
question . 

La. I will if you think that I ought. 

Soc. Yes, I do; but I must beg of you, Nicias, to begin again. You 
remember that we originally considered courage to be a part of virtue. 

Nic. Very true. 

Soc. And you yourself said that it was a part; and there were many 
other parts, all of which taken together are called virtue. 

Nic. Certainly. 

Soc. Do you agree with me about the parts? For I say that justice, 
temperance, and the like, are all of them parts of virtue as well as 
courage. Would you not say the same? 

Nic. Certainly. 

Soc. Well then, so far we are agreed. And now let us proceed a step, 
and try to arrive at a similar agreement about the fearful and the 
hopeful: I do not want you to be thinking one thing and myself 
another. Let me then tell you my own opinion, and if I am wrong you 
shall set me in my opinion the terrible and the are the things which 
do or do not create fear, and fear is not of the present, nor of the 
past, but is of future and expected evil. Do you not agree to that, 
Laches? 

La. Yes, Socrates, entirely. 

Soc. That is my view, Nicias; the terrible things, as I should 
say, are the evils which are future; and the hopeful are the good or 
not evil things which are future. Do you or do you not agree with me? 

Nic. I agree. 

Soc. And the knowledge of these things you call courage? 

Nic. Precisely. 

Soc. And now let me see whether you agree with Laches and myself 
as to a third point. 

Nic. What is that? 

Soc. I will tell you. He and I have a notion that there is not one 
knowledge or science of the past, another of the present, a third of 
what is likely to be best and what will be best in the future; but 
that of all three there is one science only: for example, there is one 
science of medicine which is concerned with the inspection of health 
equally in all times, present, past, and future; and one science of 
husbandry in like manner, which is concerned with the productions of 
the earth in all times. As to the art of the general, you yourselves 
will be my witnesses that he has an excellent foreknowledge of the 
future, and that he claims to be the master and not the servant of the 
soothsayer, because he knows better what is happening or is likely 
to happen in war: and accordingly the law places the soothsayer 
under the general, and not the general under the soothsayer. Am I 
not correct in saying so, Laches? 



La. Quite correct. 

Soc. And do you, Nicias, also acknowledge that the same science 
has understanding of the same things, whether future, present, or 
past? 

Nic. Yes, indeed Socrates; that is my opinion. 

Soc. And courage, my friend, is, as you say, a knowledge of the 
fearful and of the hopeful? 

Nic. Yes. 

Soc. And the fearful, and the hopeful, are admitted to be future 
goods and future evils? 

Nic. True. 

Soc. And the same science has to do with the same things in the 
future or at any time? 

Nic. That is true. 

Soc. Then courage is not the science which is concerned with the 
fearful and hopeful, for they are future only; courage, like the other 
sciences, is concerned not only with good and evil of the future, 
but of the present and past, and of any time? 

Nic. That, as I suppose, is true. 

Soc. Then the answer which you have given, Nicias, includes only a 
third part of courage; but our question extended to the whole nature 
of courage: and according to your view, that is, according to your 
present view, courage is not only the knowledge of the hopeful and the 
fearful, but seems to include nearly every good and evil without 
reference to time. What do you say to that alteration in your 
statement? 

Nic. I agree, Socrates. 

Soc. But then, my dear friend, if a man knew all good and evil, 
and how. they are, and have been, and will be produced, would he not 
be perfect, and wanting in no virtue, whether justice, or 
temperance, or holiness? He would possess them all, and he would 
know which were dangers' and which were not, and guard against them 
whether they were supernatural or natural; and he would provide the 
good, as he would know how to deal both with gods or men. 

Nic. I think, Socrates, that there is a great deal of truth in 
what you say. 

Soc. But then, Nicias, courage, according to this new definition 
of yours, instead of being a part of virtue only, will be all virtue? 

Nic. It would seem so. 

Soc. But we were saying that courage is one of the parts of virtue? 

Nic. Yes, that was what we were saying. 

Soc. And that is in contradiction with our present view? 

Nic. That appears to be the case. 

Soc. Then, Nicias, we have not discovered what courage is. 

Nic. We have not. 

La. And yet, friend Nicias, 1 imagined that you would have made the 
discovery, when you were so contemptuous of the answers which I made 
to Socrates . I had very great hopes that you would have been 
enlightened by the wisdom of Damon. 

Nic. I perceive, Laches, that you think nothing of having 
displayed your ignorance of the nature of courage, but you look only 
to see whether I have not made a similar display; and if we are both 
equally ignorant of the things which a man who is good for anything 
should know, that, I suppose, will be of no consequence. You certainly 
appear to me very like the rest of the world, looking at your 
neighbour and not at yourself. I am of opinion that enough has been 
said on the subject which we have been discussing; and if anything has 
been imperfectly said, that may be hereafter corrected by the help 
of Damon, whom you think to laugh down, although you have never seen 
him, and with the help of others. And when I am satisfied myself, I 
will freely impart my satisfaction to you, for I think that you are 
very much in want of knowledge. 

La. You are a philosopher, Nicias; of that I am aware: 
nevertheless I would recommend Lysimachus and Melesias not to take you 



and me as advisers about the education of their children; but, as I 
said at first, they should ask Socrates and not let him off; if my own 
sons were old enough, I would have asked him myself. 

Nic. To that I quite agree, if Socrates is willing to take them 
under his charge. I should not wish for any one else to be the tutor 
of Niceratus. But I observe that when I mention the matter to him he 
recommends to me some other tutor and refuses himself. Perhaps he 
may be more ready to listen to you, Lysimachus. 

Lys . He ought, Nicias: for certainly I would do things for him which 
I would not do for many others. What do you say, Socrates-will you 
comply? And are you ready to give assistance in the improvement of the 
youths? 

Soc. Indeed, Lysimachus, I should be very wrong in refusing to aid 
in the improvement of anybody. And if I had shown in this conversation 
that I had a knowledge which Nicias and Laches have not, then I 
admit that you would be right in inviting me to perform this duty; but 
as we are all in the same perplexity, why should one of us be 
preferred to another? I certainly think that no one should; and 
under these circumstances, let me offer you a piece of advice (and 
this need not go further than ourselves) . I maintain, my friends, that 
every one of us should seek out the best teacher whom he can find, 
first for ourselves, who are greatly in need of one, and then for 
the youth, regardless of expense or anything. But I cannot advise that 
we remain as we are. And if any one laughs at us for going to school 
at our age, I would quote to them the authority of Homer, who says, 
that 

Modesty is not good for a needy man. 

Let us, then, regardless of what may be said of us, make the education 
of the youths our own education. 

Lys. I like your proposal, Socrates; and as I am the oldest, I am 
also the most eager to go to school with the boys. Let me beg a favour 
of you: Come to my house to-morrow at dawn, and we will advise about 
these matters. For the present, let us make an end of the 
conversation . 

Soc. I will come to you to-morrow, Lysimachus, as you propose, God 
willing . 

-THE END-